Of the many quandaries parents of young children can find themselves facing, whether or not to take your toddler to a funeral is one that few of us are prepared for when it does come up. Faced with this sort of decision, or even with the more likely need that at some point you'll have to explain the death of a relative or pet to a young child, what should you consider?
Circle of Moms members have widely divergent views on the funeral question. Katie M. says she regrets taking her child to a funeral and that she wouldn't do so again. She explains, "When I think back, it pains me so much that she went through all that." But Desiree R. says that everyone needs to learn that death is a normal part of life and that there is nothing wrong with expressing emotion for someone you love.
At What Age Can a Child Understand Death?
Experts say that when a loved one dies, it's important that adults share their emotions with young children. In his book on child development, Touchpoints, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton says, "Trying to shield them from the parents' own feelings of loss or depression can be disastrous." He argues that it's better for a child to learn about death from a parent than to be given a misleading reason for someone's sudden disappearance.
Even toddlers can be spoken to about this emotional subject in language they can understand. Erin B. told her son that their loved one "went bye-bye," as this was the language he understood. Jenni F. suggested a poetic version of this conversation: "Go out at night and pick the brightest star in the sky and tell him that is his grandma watching him."
Being Included Matters
My own toddler, Olin, hasn't yet been exposed to death, with the exception of the occasional squashed insect. So he wouldn't understand what was going on at a funeral. But he would be completely plugged in to the emotions of those in attendance. And he gets really upset when he sees his parents or friends crying or unhappy. That said, you have to begin somewhere, and I like to include him in important events; it just feels right for him to be there.
I tend to agree with Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, a grief expert and founder of the Center for Loss & Life Transition, who says that children, no matter how young, should be allowed to attend an event as significant as a funeral. He says that "the funeral may seem unimportant now, [but] think what that inclusion will mean to her later.... She will feel good knowing that instead of being home with a babysitter, she was included in this meaningful ritual."
Have you ever taken a young child to a funeral?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.